Claim:   Ionut Costea, an injured Romanian child, needs your financial assistance to obtain medical treatment in Switzerland.

Status:   Undetermined.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2001]

I need your help. I don’t speak very good English but I try to understand with you.

My daughter Ionut (she has 5 years old) had an accident which affect her brain and spinal column. She suffer very much and die day after day. Her situation is very difficult and rarely. She can be save with two surgical intervention in Switzerland. But this intervention cost 26,000 USA$ (26 thausand $). I don’t have that money. In Romania I work for 180$/month. In Romania life is very hard and expensive. If you have children you understend my problem.

You can help my baby put few money (USA$) in her banc account.

Cont: 251101.213090013162013007     USD

Origins:   This tear-jerking appeal hit the Internet in mid-May 2001. Typical of numerous spamhandling efforts, a heart-rending story about a suffering child is used to solicit money from kindhearted folks who might be inclined to help. Authors of such attempts to defraud trust in the kneejerk reaction of good people to come to the aid of a dying tot to blind them to all that is not known about the case: the address of the family, where the youngster is being treated, and the name of the doctor — all key bits of information necessary to ascertain if the hardship is real.

In the case of this particular appeal, even the mother’s name is missing. We know the child’s name is Ionut Costea and that she’s five years old and sick, but that’s it. Who are the doctors? What’s the diagnosis? Where is the child? Is she in a hospital or being tended at home? Indeed, where is home? What city does this take place in? All this is missing from the account, thus there is no way to determine if there is such a child and, if so, if her situation is as has been


Yet we’re being asked to send money directly into what we’re told is this child’s bank account. The one doing the asking is supposedly her mother, an unnamed individual who has mailed this appeal from at least two different throwaway free e-mail accounts: and

Grieving down-at-the-heels mother using a free account because it’s all she can afford? Or con artist who is out to fleece you and is using throwaway accounts to perpetrate a swindle from? You decide. But while you’re pondering the matter, consider this: Romania’s Deputy Minister of its Ministry of Public Finance is one Mircea Ionut Costea, often referred to merely as Ionut Costea. Oddball coincidence that he and the dying child have the same name, isn’t it?

One more odd point: Ionut is a boy’s name. A daughter named Ionut would be rather unusual indeed.

The urge to help should be quelled until it’s entirely clear the need is real. And that is very far from the case here. If anything, the scales are tipping hard the other way.

If all this niggling and suspicion seems coldhearted, please keep in mind that a veritable army of swindlers have used endless variations on “My baby is sick” yarns to con hardworking, honest folks out of their earnings. The seeming anonymity of the Internet has provided such lowlifes with a new method of doing so, but the game itself is as old as the hills.

In March 2001, a writer for the South Bend Tribune reported on his encounter with two “Please help my baby!” con artists in the space of a few minutes. Flim flammer #1 approached him on the street, saying she needed a few dollars to buy formula and diapers for her baby. When asked where the infant was, she claimed he was sleeping in a car parked a block away. When the reporter insisted upon being taken to the baby (who he’d just been told had been left alone in a freezing cold car), the “needy mom” turned tail and ran.

He ran into scam mom #2 a couple of blocks further on. She was carrying what appeared to be a baby wrapped in a receiving blanket to keep out the cold. Her car was at a local gas station, she said, and she needed a few dollars to get home with her young one. The reporter lifted a corner of the blanket to peep at the child only to find a doll staring back at him. This con walked away defiantly with her head held high, knowing that there were other sheep to be fleeced.

Men run versions of the scam too. In 1998 a Pittsburgh man was arrested on four counts of theft by deception after going door to door with a tale about needing money to get to the hospital to see his son who’d just been injured in a car accident in a city some distance away. Folks who heard his sad story routinely gave him $40 or $50 apiece. The man, of course, had no son, injured or otherwise.

Streetside swindles are routine. We all know to be suspicious of “Will work for food” panhandlers plying their begging skills on freeway offramps, but would most know to be wary of the young, poor-looking, baby-toting couple apparently stranded at the gas station in their beat up ancient van who say they need a few dollars to buy gas to get home or a larger amount to get the truck fixed because it broke down? Would you be touched by such a story if a week later you saw the same couple stranded at the same gas station and observed them hitting up others with the same tale?

The Internet has made a con artist’s job easier: he no longer has to go face-to-face with the clientele he’s looking to plunder; he no longer has to risk someone lifting a corner of the receiving blanket to take a peek for himself. A tearful appeal and a post office box will provide him with a life of ease. (Well, it will until the U.S. Postal Service catches on.) And if he doesn’t want to risk a run-in with the USPS, he can ask people to wire their largesse right into his bank account.

If (okay, when) you receive this or any other e-mailed appeal, resist the urge to focus solely on the harrowing tale of need and instead look at what can be verified about the person doing the asking and the hardship that prompted him to come hat in hand. If there’s a sick child, look for information about where the little one is being treated and then call that facility to inquire about the case. Stop long enough to ask yourself good questions, such as “Why isn’t this family seeking help from whatever social services there are in their area?” and “Who can I call to verify even part of this story?” These might seem harsh questions to trouble onself with if the need is real, but far more often the story that so moved you to want to help will prove out to be naught but an inventive tale cooked up by someone looking use your kind and trusting nature to swindle you.

Beware the pull on your heartstrings — it’s often the pursestrings that are actually being reached for.

Barbara “string theory” Mikkelson

Additional information:

    Mail Fraud
Mail Fraud (U.S. Postal Inspection Service)

    Contributing with Confidence
Contributing with Confidence (Better Business Bureau)

Last updated:   27 March 2005


  Sources Sources:

    Lyvers, Glenn.   “Those Being Asked for Assistance Can Defend Themselves Against Scams.”

    South Bend Tribune.   22 March 2001   (p. A13).

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.   “Swindling Suspect Arrested.”

    30 March 1998   (p. A12).